Angus Young of AC/DC Discusses Guitar Riffs and Brown Gibson SG's in 1991 Guitar World Interview
Here's an interview with Angus Young of AC/DC from the February 1991 issue of Guitar World magazine. To see all the Guitar World covers from 1991, click here.
He wrenches solos from the neck of a battered Gibson SG with all the grace of a drunken dentist; his fingers practically trip over the frets.
Hands like his are most often found on pork butchers, pinball players and wrist wrestlers. Yet Angus Young's hands have fashioned some of the most memorable guitar riffs in rock history, driving such classic scorchers as "Whole Lotta Rosie," "Highway To Hell" and "You Shook Me All Night Long."
These signature licks not only defined AC/DC 's garage-power boogie, but laid to rest any notion that rock and roll requires anything more than three chords -- and a whole lotta volume -- to be hot, hot, hot.
At the moment, Angus is relaxed. In fact he's sitting down. It's difficult to envision him doing anything but flailing at his guitar and duck walking like some hyper stepchild of Chuck Berry.
Even his famous kneecaps-skinned and scarred from too many losing encounters with the dread Mr. Floor -- are covered by simple blue jeans; his trademark knickers are locked away. AC/DC's new album, The Razor's Edge, is rapidly climbing the charts, and Angus is all set to shred the countryside as he and the band prepare to embark on a world tour.
The guitarist tells jokes, frequently grins his goofy, rubber-lipped grin, and speaks in torrents. But everyone knows he does his best talking with a guitar. And three chords.
GUITAR WORLD: It's quite an honor to be able to speak with the great Angus Young.
Oh, I wouldn't know about it being a great honor!
Well, I still have one of those For Those About To Rock cardboard promotional cannons. And all your albums.
Then it must be a great honor. [laughs]
Now that we got that out of the way, are you still using Marshalls?
Mainly. In the studio, my brother and I have always used a lot of Marshall amps. We like to keep it pretty basic. We just use a couple of cabinets each -- sometimes just one, if we think that's enough. We mainly go for 100-watt and 50-watt heads.
That's been your set-up for quite awhile now, hasn't it?
Yeah, well, we've always found that it works.
It used to be that all a guitar player needed was an amplifier and a volume knob.
Well that's it, you know? Have fingers, will play.
What do you think of all the high-tech guitar gadgetry on the market? It seems that a guitar player doesn't necessarily even have to know that much about playing to sound better than he actually is.
If you notice, a lot of that equipment comes from Japan. And AC/DC has never been a band which likes to sound Japanese.
Have you actually tried any of the new gear that's out there?
I've seen a lot of it over the years. I might pick up a drum machine or something. In general, though, I've always found equipment -- especially technical gear that comes from America -- to be better-sounding. Put it this way: I think that a lot of stuff that comes from your side of the world is always in plain English. [laughs] A lot of Japanese stuff, they have to sell you the manual. It's like reading Wuthering Heights!
Do you do anything special in the studio, such as tilting your speaker cabinets or miking them in a certain way?
A lot of it has to do with the mike placement. I think that for any band, especially a guitar band like ourselves, it's always worth it to spend that bit of time with the mike -- rather than depending on the board. Or using any little gadgets that spring to mind. We always like to get the best, basic raw sound that we can. I think that if you spend a few days to get these sounds, in the end you'll save yourself a great deal of headaches. When you go through effects -- well , it's easy to put an effect on, but a lot harder to get it out.
What steps do you take to prepare your solos in the studio? It sounds like you just plug in …
... and let 'em rip! I only know one solo [laughs], and I made a career of it!
Many young guitar players aspire to be "Guitar Stars" these days -- they go for technique, above all.
There 's always going to be a lot of that. But I really don 't look at these new guitar players. I can be a flash when I want to. But, as I always used to say, I can practice at home; here, I'm playing before the public. I bet half the audience wouldn't even know it if a guitarist is thinking, I’ll play this lick. Oh, I messed it up. I'll play it again." [laughs]
So how do you keep coming up with those great riffs?
I've got great ears.
You are responsible for some of rock's greatest guitar riffs ...
With guitar riffs, we always look for something that 's a little bit special. We've always found that it is harder to come up with something that's nice and simple without getting something that's hard but easy. And a lot of it has to do with rhythm. We tend to go for, if we can, a bit more blues, a more rhythmic thing. Our riffs transport you. We don't know where, though.
What's your favorite key to write or solo in?
It 's usually the first one that I can get my fingers on. I don't mind doing things in "A" or "E" -- maybe the occasional "B" isn't bad. Some guitars, like the [Gibson] SG, seem to be built for "B." I don 't know why that is.
I've never seen you play anything but an SG.
They're light, easy; you don't have to think about them.
Have you ever played anything else?
I tried a Les Paul when I was a lot younger. I tried the Les Paul and because of the weight of the thing it nearly dislocated my hip. I've always found with SG's that if you are a short guy -- about five foot two [laughs] -- you can get your hands around them.
Have you ever tried any of the newer guitars?
Motor cars! [laughs] That's what they look like to me. They've got these wild designs and colors. Whatever happened to the plain colors like black and brown? None of this Art-Deco shit, you know? I bet these new guitars come from east Africa.
You've probably been responsible for selling more SG's than just about anyone in the world.
Yeah, well I have been thinking about opening a store, a brown SG shop. We've got every color you want -- as long as it’s brown!
What are three components that the typical AC/DC song must have?
It's got to have a good rhythm. It's gotta rock. That's the first requirement. I also like the songs to be, for my own preference, uptempo. If the song's slower, perhaps a bit moody, it has to have something extra. And we like it to be a song -- not just a collection of riffs. I think it has to flow and be very natural. Most songs these days seem like excuses to put a riff around. In songs written by the lead guitarist -- the loud guitarist, I call him -- the poor singer's got to sing in-between this guy 's chops. It makes it kind of tough on some of those guys if you only leave the bar in the end. [laughs]
What do you consider to be your best solo on The Razor 's Edge?
It's probably the title song; I think it 's got a little different sort of punch. I tried my hand at finger-picking in little spots here and there. I like that one very much.
I've never seen you do any tapping.
You mean tapping with the feet? [laughs] Or something on the head? Seriously: no, I don't do that. There's enough people out there already doing it. So I figure, hey, while they're doing that, I'll do this. There's no competition.
How about your best solo, overall?
The album on which we got to do the most guitar stuff was probably Let There Be Rock. Throughout that album, there are many guitar solos and many breaks. I really like some of them very much. The song "Let There Be Rock" was unusual for me. I remember my brother, George, saying in the studio, "C'mon Ang, let's get something different here." And every day, he would come in with something different. I had great deal of fun on that whole album. On the last track, I remember the amp blowing up at the end. I said, "Hey, the speakers are going!" You could see it in the studio, there was all this smoke and sparks, and the valves were glowing. He kept yelling at me, "Keep playing, keep playing!" [laughs]
Your albums all sound like that, though -- like you played in a great big garage, cranking it up and jamming.
Yeah, well that's what we do the best. We don't like a big studio production. We always like to capture that raw energy.
Did you have any fun experimenting during the recording of this album?
I think "fun" is getting us all to start at the same time! [laughs] You always have a bit of the 'ol fool-around now and again. I think the funniest song on this album is "Mistress For Christmas." That song's about Donald Trump. He was big news at the time, so we thought we'd have a bit of fun and humor with it.
You've referred to the importance of rhythm in your songs. Your new drummer, Chris Slade, really locks in on the AC/DC groove. That must make things easier for you.
That's right. He's not carrying a lot of extra weight. If he had hair, it might weigh him down a bit. He does bang 'em away. And he looks menacing, too. I don't know if you've seen the video for "Thunderstruck." You can see my leg shakin'! [laughs]
You enjoyed yourself on that video.
Those cages that you see in the video weren't there to keep the audience away from the band, but to keep the band away from the audience. [laughs] We had to come in before they shot the video, which we found to be a bit strange. They said, "We got to set the cameras so we know where you're going, Mr. Young." I actually had to bring along a tour guide to show them.
Your video is refreshing to watch because it 's pure AC/DC.
Right, there's not a miniskirt in sight! One thing I have noticed about videos you see on TV nowadays: you can't tell the difference between them and the commercials.
As much fun as you seem to be having in the studio and with video making, it had been quite awhile since you last went in to record.
That's true. When we made our last album, Blow Up Your Video, we were on tour all through '88. Roughly, we had maybe four weeks off in the whole year. That was in-between countries. That's usually what happens with AC/DC; you make an album and then you 're on the road flatout. And the only time you ever get near a studio is generally after you've done a year of touring.
Seems like it's been almost three years.
Which is not bad. I mean, look at the Rolling Stones. I think it 's good that they can still get out there and hammer it out.
I saw the Stones last year. Keith Richard still plays out of tune.
[nodding] The only way to fly.
Much of your new material sounds like it could have come from the Back In Black or For Those About To Rock period. The song "Thunderstruck" even reminds me a bit of "Who Made Who."
With AC/DC, we've always started with rock, and we've just kept it going. The critic's view is always , "They just made an album and it's the same as the last one." I'll have fifteen of them, anytime.